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The OBAMA JOBS PLAN Is a Blue-State Bailout in Disguise – WSJ.com

September 14, 2011

A Blue-State Bailout in Disguise

Our new study shows that under the Obama jobs bill, debt-ridden states will get another big handout.

OPINION SEPTEMBER 14, 2011, 7:36 P.M. ET

By PAUL E. PETERSON

AND DANIEL NADLER

Last Thursday, the president urged Congress to pony up roughly $200 billion in taxpayer money to “provide more jobs for teachers [and] more jobs for construction workers” and more money to carry out other state and local activities. He urges Congress to spend this money even after handing out hundreds of billions of dollars for similar purposes as part of the 2009 stimulus package, as well as a score and more billion dollars again in 2010.

These vast contributions to the coffers of state and local governments, though pitched as a jobs bill, are in reality the latest in a series of bailouts for debt-ridden state and local governments. They are of special benefit to states in the blue regions of the country where the president’s most fervent supporters reside.

In many blue states, legislators have copied the politicians in Washington by running up state debts to extraordinary levels. Nationwide, state debt is running around $3 trillion. If unfunded pension liabilities are factored in, estimated liabilities leap forward by another $1 trillion to $3 trillion, depending on the optimism of the assumptions made.

The bond market has taken notice. Before the 2008 financial crisis, state sovereign debt was just about the safest place to invest. Because investors did not pay taxes on the interest, states were able to borrow money at rates below those paid for federal securities. With the onset of the financial crisis, not only did borrowing costs rise across the board, but differences in interest rates among states widened dramatically. Bond holders concluded that some states, like Greece, had been extraordinarily profligate and, even worse, lacked the will to rein in their expenditures.

In a new study at Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance, we discovered why the Obama administration is so interested in helping out the states. States with a bluish hue—that is, states with legislatures that are heavily Democratic and have a highly unionized public-sector work force—must pay interest rates that are often an extra half a percentage point higher than states with a reddish coloring.

Specifically, a 20 percentage-point increment in either the Democratic share of the state legislature or a comparable increase in the share of the public work force that is unionized drives up interest rates by nearly a half a percentage point on a five-year security note. That amount is nontrivial. In Obama’s home state of Illinois, it is costing governments over $700 million annually.

via Peterson and Nadler: The Obama Jobs Plan Is a Blue-State Bailout in Disguise – WSJ.com.

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